Whether you’re a regular blog reader or have popped over to browse from our shop site, it’s easy to see that nature inspires nearly everything we do. From our lovely dipped-glaze pottery made from earth-dug terracotta clay to our landscape cushions featuring our favourite outdoor environments, natural materials and motifs are everywhere in the Decorator’s Notebook world.
Nancy Straughan is a young textile designer who shares our passion and that’s probably why we adore her work. So much so that we’ve just added four of her linen napkin and tea towel designs to our collection. We caught up with Nancy to welcome her to our growing family of makers and find out more about her work and the things that inspire her.
When did you begin designing fabric?
I first become interested in textiles when I completed a foundation year in Art and Design in my hometown of Newcastle – I just fell in love with working with fabric. I then went on to study printed textiles at university and, when I graduated, I wanted to start my own label.
Where did you learn your craft?
I have always been interested in designing things myself but I really became interested in print whilst I was at university. A lot of what I do now I learnt on my own, I try to push myself as much as I can. That’s when I produce my best work.
Talk us through your design process when you work on something new…
Designs always start with a sketchbook. Ideas, notes, motifs and repeats are all jotted down ready to be turned into a pattern or product. The design process is very hands-on and the computer is only really used to tidy things up a little. As you can see my patterns contain lots of texture and this is achieved by taking mountains of photos, scanning tree bark, stones and crystals and lots of messy work with ink. I still use lots of printing and drawing techniques I learned at art school and I make sure to document everything that I find inspiring.
Tell us more about how nature influences your designs…
I grew up in the North East… not many people really know how stunning Northumberland is! My childhood was spent surrounded by beautiful coastlines and rugged countryside which I really miss now I live in London. I also spent time living in Scotland, mainly in Perthshire and St Andrews. The most memorable of these Scottish homes was a farmhouse in Perth enclosed by birch forests that concealed waterfalls and lochs.
It’s important that I practice traditional printing methods and that my patterns have a homespun style. To achieve this I began collecting textures found in nature and began to experiment with natural dyeing techniques using flowers and fruit. I now have a huge catalogue of different natural objects that I scan, photograph, print and dye until I can use them in my patterns.
Many of the motifs seen in my work are inspired by pattern designers who worked in the 1950’s and 60’s. The designers that inspire me most are Lucienne Day, Henry Moore and Mary White, who made fashionable British pattern available to everyone. I hope that my work – with its combination of natural textures and bold, simple motifs – reflects not only Midcentury design but British pattern at its best.
What’s the Nancy Straughan look?
Simple, natural and Scandinavian
How important is the environment in what you do?
Sustainability is at the heart of everything I create. Each pattern is printed onto ethically-sourced textiles and every single product is made in England. Rather than letting the designs follow trends, each print and product is created thoughtfully to last for years to come. I strive to be as transparent as possible with regards to sustainable and eco-friendly practices. The desire to live and work in a way that is kind to the earth has led to many positive choices for me; everything from inks, papers, fabrics and even packaging is kept as eco-friendly as possible.
Describe your workspace… what can we see from your window?
I have a little 1950’s kitchen table as my desk, and the wall next to me is covered with postcards and prints that inspire me. I live in a very pretty area of North London, my flat is very near a park with fallow deer and a reservoir. Unfortunately though my flat is on the high street so I see the posh fish and chip shop from my window!
How do you get to work? How do you spend your tea breaks?
I work from home, which I love. My flat is a little haven. I don’t have that many tea breaks as I’m really naughty and work for 8 hours straight most days. If I have time for a break I’ll have an earl grey and watch something really cheesy like ‘Project Runway’!
What’s the most satisfying part of your work?
Knowing that I do absolutely everything myself. I designed my website, do all the styling and photography of my work, sew all the products, you name it I do it! Sometimes I get too busy though so I beg my friends and family to help out too! My boyfriend is super clever so I make him help me create my geometry based designs. I am rubbish at maths.
How are your fabrics printed?
My fabrics are digitally printed in the UK.
You’ve started running some workshops too?
Since 2011 I have been working for a company called Homemade London with a beautiful workshop venue behind Marble Arch. I teach printing workshops there, such as screen printing and lino. I love teaching so I recently decided to expand and run more workshops at other venues too!
What’s your next creative milestone?
I am looking to explore more photographic styling and interior design, who knows where that will take me!
[Portrait photographs all courtesy of Nancy Straughan | Product photographs all Bethan John for Decorator’s Notebook]